The office of the future

27 November 2018. Features.

The United Nations’ prediction that two thirds of us will be living in cities by 2050 has prompted all sorts of speculation about the future of urban living – but what does it mean for those of us working in the cities of tomorrow? Katie Treggiden investigates.

The rapid urbanisation of the world’s population is one of the defining characteristics of our time. Half of us now live in cities – a figure that is closer to three-quarters in Europe and North America. London, New York and Tokyo, along with another 34 cities worldwide, each house more than 10 million people, earning them the title ‘megacities.’ But what does this all mean for the way we work?


Tapping into the tiny house movement, the trend for remote working and the sharing economy, MINI Living – the urban architecture arm of the automotive firm – proposes converting redundant industrial buildings into shared live-work spaces. An installation at Milan Design Week earlier this year demonstrated the concept with a warehouse populated with communal spaces for eating, socialising and getting fit, interspersed with two-storey, single-person live/work ‘totems’ designed for a pattern cutter, a botanical illustrator, a music producer and a pottery collector. ‘MINI Living provides creative solutions for collaborative urban living – on a small footprint but offering many possibilities and a high degree of flexibility,’ says Esther Bahne, Head of Strategy and Business Innovation. The first live iteration, containing over 50 apartments and communal or public spaces, is currently being built in Shanghai. With single-person living on the rise – the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that 28% of British households contained one person in 2014 – FranklinTill’s Hester Lacey agrees with MINI Living’s call for more flexible spaces that rethink the way we live and work, citing the Canopy co-working space in San Francisco by Yves Béhar and Amir Mortazavi as another example of this approach.

Green fingers

Lacey also predicts an increased emphasis on wellbeing and biophilic design as our cities get more crowded, quoting the 2014 Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices ‘meta study’ by the World Green Building Council on health, which highlights the importance of greenery in the urban environment: ‘A growing scientific understanding of biophilic design, and the positive impact of green space and nature on (particularly) mental health, has implications for those involved in office design and fit-out, developers and urban planners alike’.

Data in data out

The World Bank predicts not only increase in the urban population of 1.4 billion people by 2025 but an associated 1.42kg of municipal solid waste per person per day – more than double the current average. In response, the mayor of Barcelona in 2014 challenged cities all over the world to produce everything they consume by 2054, resulting in the ‘Fab City’ initiative. The hope is for a shift away from the linear ‘product-in trash-out’ model that is reliant the carbon-emitting transport of goods and waste disposal on a growing scale, towards a circular model in which data is the only thing coming in and out of cities, which use waste as a resource from which to manufacture everything they need. 28 cities have signed up so far, and, with rooftop allotments already appearing at Google HQs worldwide and printer ink made from air pollution already in development, the idea might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Office on wheels

Talking of far-fetched, Space 10, IKEA’s own ‘future living lab’ proposes turning driverless cars into mobile offices. ‘In congested cities, an average person driving to work spends 75 minutes commuting,’ they explain. ‘About 30 of those minutes are lost to congestion. This means that over 32 years, the driver will have spent two years stuck in traffic.’ Their ‘Office on Wheels’ concept includes meeting rooms as well as desk space, enabling workers to get ahead on their way into work or catch up on their way home.

Cities are changing, and these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how we might respond. What does urbanisation mean for your business and how might it change the way you work? If you’re not already thinking about it, it’s time to start.


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